In the 1980s the youth market was becoming increasingly important to film-makers, and the decade saw a growth in the number of films aimed at, and about, teenagers. "Reckless" is a good example of the sort of high school romance in which the main characters are both in their mid-twenties. Or rather, the two characters are supposed to be teenagers, but the actors who play them are in their mid-twenties. This is something of a convention in American films of this type, the rationale presumably being that story lines about underage sex become more acceptable to the censors (and possibly to the viewing public as well) if the roles are played by adults. Adherence to this convention was particularly important in the case of "Reckless", which is a good deal more sexually explicit than most high school romance dramas.
Director James Foley makes quite deliberate reference to a number of earlier movies about youthful rebelliousness, such as "The Wild One", "Rebel without a Cause" and "The Graduate". The film is set in a Mid-Western industrial town where the main industry is steel making. During the Reagan years America's traditional heavy industries were in decline, and towns like the one shown here were often badly hit by unemployment. (Something similar also happened in Britain at the same time).
The main character, Johnny Rourke, is a boy from a working-class background. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his hard-drinking, foul-mouthed father, a worker at the local steel mill. Although Johnny is supposedly from a poor family, it is notable that he drives a powerful motorbike, which struck me as improbable. As their relationship is, to say the least, a difficult one, it is unlikely that his father would have bought him such an expensive present, even if he could have afforded it, and there is no way that Johnny could have purchased it himself while still at school. Ever since Brando in "The Wild One", however, motorbikes have been a powerful symbol of rebellion, and this is clearly a case where symbolism was felt to be more important than verisimilitude.
Like Jim Stark in the film of that name, Johnny can be classed as a "rebel without a cause", although he seems to have even more anger than James Dean's character. During this period many young men in his position would have been fearful of the prospect of unemployment, but Johnny seems to be more worried about the prospect of employment, or at least of being employed, like his father, in a dead-end job in a dead-end town. Johnny has seen what his home town has to offer, and doesn't want it. The problem is, he doesn't know what he does want, with one exception.
Johnny is a star player in the school football team (although he later gets thrown off the team for insubordination), and the one thing he does want is Tracey, a glamorous blonde cheerleader from a wealthy family. Although Tracey already has a boyfriend, Randy, she finds herself attracted to Johnny, largely because of what he represents- rejection of her family's snobbish middle-class values. (They, needless to say, disapprove strongly of Johnny).
There are some good things about the film. There is some effective photography of the industrial landscapes, similar to those in "Flashdance" which had come out the previous year. Contrary to the impression sometimes given by Hollywood, not everyone in America lives in affluent white-collar suburbia. The film also makes good use of the pop music of the period, such as Kim Wilde's "Kids in America", to the strains of which Johnny and Tracey make love.
On the whole, however, I found the film disappointing. Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah were two attractive young people, but neither seemed convincing as a teenager. James Dean, of course, was also in his twenties when he made "Rebel
.", but he seemed completely believable as a confused, vulnerable adolescent. Quinn and Hannah, however, are less credible. Quinn in particular comes across as too adult, too confident and self-assured. There are also some very strange scenes, such as the one where Johnny and Tracey, as a prelude to making love, belabour each other with what look like gigantic sausages.
Wilde sang in "Kids in America" that "You know life is cruel, life is never kind". Foley, however, evidently felt that his intended teenage audience would not be mature enough to appreciate this stark truth, so he provided the film with a contrived happy ending, presumably based upon the one in "The Graduate", as Tracey jumps onto Johnny's motorbike and they go roaring off down the highway together. At least, this was presumably intended to be a happy ending, although I was left with the awkward feeling that these two characters made a very ill-matched pair. Tracey, after all, is committing herself to a man with no job, no home (after his father's death in an industrial accident, Johnny has set fire to the family home) and no prospects, except possibly the prospect of serving a jail sentence if the police ever find out who was responsible for the fire. If Tracey had stopped to think more clearly, she might have wondered (as I did) whether Johnny is really in love with her, or whether seducing a virginal middle-class cheerleader is simply his way of expressing his anger and resentment against the system. This was a film which really needed a more downbeat ending. 5/10